There was a moment early in the testimony last Wednesday by longtime diplomat and Army veteran Bill Taylor that was lost in the drama of everything else he had to say about Donald Trump’s attempt to extort the Ukrainian government. That was when Taylor dropped the fact that he had been on the “front line” of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia only the previous week and that on the day he was there, “a Ukrainian soldier was killed and four were wounded.”
This article first appeared in Salon.
The death of one soldier somewhere near the border with Ukraine and Russia may not seem like a very important event in the greater scheme of things as the House of Representatives considers the impeachment of Donald Trump. But it was important enough tor Taylor that he mentioned it in the fifth paragraph of his opening statement. He wanted to get it on the record early in his testimony that “even as we sit here today, the Russians are attacking Ukrainian soldiers in their own country and have been for the last four years.”
What happens in the background of practically everything that Donald Trump does or fails to do is that people are dying. This is why the impeachment hearings are about more than Rudy Giuliani running around trying to get Ukrainian prosecutors to investigate Joe Biden and his son or some spurious right-wing conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, rather than Russia, that meddled in the 2016 election. Ukraine is quite literally fighting for its life against Russian aggression on its eastern border. As Taylor’s testimony made clear, the fact that Trump ordered that American military aid to Ukraine be withheld had deadly consequences.
While Donald Trump stood at a podium next to Vladimir Putin, as he did last year in Helsinki, and called the Russian president a “strong leader,” Ukrainians were being killed by Russian military forces that had invaded their country under Putin’s orders. At the same time Donald Trump stood next to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as he did in the White House on Wednesday, and referred to the Turkish president as “a tough guy who deserves respect,” Kurds were being killed by Turkish forces who invaded Syria with Trump’s explicit approval. Last summer, when Donald Trump sat across a table in Osaka, Japan, from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and called him “a friend of mine” who is doing “a spectacular job,” Yemeni civilians were being killed by American supplied “smart bombs” and armed drones, and the dismembered body of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, murdered by Saudi assassins last year in Turkey, still had not been found.
This week, while Donald Trump tweeted conspiracy theories about Joe Biden and launched personal attacks on former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch as she testified on Capitol Hill, two more school children lay dead and four more lay severely wounded in a hospital, shot by yet another mass killer on a rampage at a high school in Santa Clarita, California. The shooting in California came on the heels of an Oval Office meeting in late September between Trump and National Rifle Association Wayne LaPierre, during which LaPierre asked Trump to “stop the games” about gun control legislation and promised NRA support for Trump in his fight against impeachment, according to The New York Times. Trump spoke at the NRA convention in April of this year, and has long had a cozy relationship with the gun lobby. The NRA reportedly spent $30 million in support of Trump’s election in 2016.
Look at just a few of the mass killings that have happened since Trump took office: Las Vegas, October 2017: 58 dead, 413 wounded. Sutherland Springs, Texas, November 2017: 26 dead, 20 wounded. Pittsburgh, October 2018: 11 dead, 7 wounded. Parkland, Florida, February 2018: 17 dead, 17 wounded. Virginia Beach, Virginia, May 2019: 13 dead, 5 wounded. El Paso, Texas, August 2019: 22 dead, 24 wounded. Dayton, Ohio, August 2019: 10 dead, 27 wounded. Midland, Texas, August 2019: 8 dead, 25 wounded.
Donald Trump didn’t pull the trigger in Las Vegas or El Paso or Parkland or Dayton or this week in Santa Clarita. Donald Trump is not personally firing the artillery shells that are killing soldiers in Ukraine, nor is he gunning down Kurds in Syria or dropping smart bombs on civilians in Yemen. But unless he is impeached or defeated in the election of 2020, this is Donald Trump’s government, and it is exercising Donald Trump’s policies, and it’s Donald Trump’s Republican Party that stands in the way of sane gun legislation.
Every time you hear dry, foreign-relations talk about Russia or Turkey or Saudi Arabia “seeking influence in the region,” whether the region is the Middle East or Eastern Europe, what they’re really talking about is dead bodies. That’s the way these corrupt, dictatorial friends of Donald Trump “seek influence.” They order military forces under their command to kill people. That killing produced dead bodies, lots and lots of dead bodies. Taylor testified that more than 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since the Russians invaded Ukraine and seized Crimea. Estimates of the dead in Yemen run as high as 100,000, according to no less an authority than Fox News. More than 100 people have been killed and tens of thousands of refugees have been displaced since Turkey invaded northern Syria, according to NBC News.
Every time you hear Donald Trump tell his screaming fans at one of his rallies that he’s going to “protect your Second Amendment,” what he’s really saying is that he’s going to protect the right of the next mass killer to go out and buy an assault rifle and all the ammunition he can carry, because that’s what it takes to produce the dead bodies that result from these mass killings.
The hearings into the impeachment of Donald Trump are supposedly about the president trading military support of Ukraine for investigations into his political rival Joe Biden. We’ve heard lots of talk about the “violation of norms” and “obstruction of justice” and “foreign meddling in our elections” and “witness tampering” and even “bribery and extortion.”
But there are other consequences of Donald Trump’s presidency. So long as he remains president, the dead bodies will continue to pile up in Ukraine and Syria and Yemen and in the schools and Walmarts and churches and synagogues of the United States of America. The dead bodies will be Trump’s, but the shame will be ours.